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Landscapes of human evolution: models and methods of tectonic geomorphology and the reconstruction of hominin landscapes

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Publication details

JournalJournal of Human Evolution
DatePublished - May 2011
Issue number3
Number of pages23
Pages (from-to)257-80
Original languageEnglish


This paper examines the relationship between complex and tectonically active landscapes and patterns of human evolution. We show how active tectonics can produce dynamic landscapes with geomorphological and topographic features that may be critical to long-term patterns of hominin land use but that are not typically addressed in landscape reconstructions based on existing geological and paleoenvironmental principles. We describe methods of representing topography at a range of scales using measures of roughness based on digital elevation data, and combine the resulting maps with satellite imagery and ground observations to reconstruct features of the wider landscape as they existed at the time of hominin occupation and activity. We apply these methods to sites in South Africa, where relatively stable topography facilitates reconstruction, and demonstrate the presence of previously unrecognized tectonic effects and their implications for the interpretation of hominin habitats and land use. In parts of the East African Rift, reconstruction is more difficult because of dramatic changes since the time of hominin occupation, while fossils are often found in places where activity has now almost ceased. However, we show that original, dynamic landscape features can be assessed by analogy with parts of the Rift that are currently active and indicate how this approach can complement other sources of information to add new insights and pose new questions for future investigation of hominin land use and habitats.

Bibliographical note

2010 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved. This is an author produced version of a paper published in Journal of Human Evolution . Uploaded in accordance with the publisher's self-archiving policy.

    Research areas

  • East African Rift, Hominin landscapes, Roughness, Satellite imagery, South Africa, Tectonics, Topographic complexity

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